Covid Accelerates Franchising's Adoption of Marketing Technologies, Part 1
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Covid Accelerates Franchising's Adoption of Marketing Technologies, Part 1

Covid Accelerates Franchising's Adoption of Marketing Technologies, Part 1

Del Taco was hard at work on a new future-focused restaurant prototype and drive-thru-only model to modernize the guest experience and maximize operational efficiency when the pandemic hit. Customers arriving at closed doors were forced to adopt technology for access to their favorite foods at the brand or go without.

It quickly became clear that the customer’s hunger for convenience (as well as for its food), was here to stay. The Mexican-American fast food chain, founded in 1964, returned to the drawing board to integrate customer-facing technology as “a real part of the functionality of the prototype,” says John Cappasola, president and CEO of Del Taco, which today has 600 restaurants across 16 states.

“I think brands, including Del Taco, needed to think about the likely points of access with the consumer and make sure that we make the avenues to achieve that access as seamless and easy for them as possible,” he says. “Clearly, technology was the place we needed to start.”

Along with a reimagined interior and exterior, the brand’s new Fresh Flex prototype, announced in January, reflects the multiple ways guests can experience Del Taco. It includes third-party delivery pickup stations, a dedicated lane for mobile orders or delivery driver pickups, and parking lot areas for people who want to park and eat on the go.

“Customers can sit in their car under a shaded canopy and get away from the world for a few minutes and enjoy Del Taco, much like they did before in our dining room—and they can do that in the comfort of the parking lot without having to get out of their car—all enabled by technology,” says Cappasola. “Your ability to order from our app, identify that you are in your car in the parking lot, and have one of our team members bring your order out to your car was not something we were thinking about before the pandemic.”

Del Taco’s strategic push for “ultimate convenience” also can be found in its continued digital transformation, with enhanced mobile app upgrades and plans in the months ahead for a new CRM platform and loyalty program rollout designed to enable a data-driven, personalized approach to sales growth.

Tech Integration

Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop, founded in 1976, built its brand on handcrafted sandwiches and developed a cult-like following over the following decades. These days the fast-casual brand considers itself a technology-enabled service company.

“The way we think about technology today is that it is the pillar that runs through branding, through operations, and through marketing and innovation,” says David Bloom, chief development and operations officer for the Las Vegas-based franchisor. “It connects everything, it integrates everything, and it has to be integrated into everything.”

After accelerating the adoption of digital technologies in response to Covid-19, franchisors are crafting strategies to engage and efficiently build multi-channel loyalty in a post-pandemic world. With convenience expectations forever reset, the path to sustained success means keeping pace with where and what customers value most. 

“In other words, where’s the consumer demand?” says Bloom. “The question is ‘Who is going to meet the demand best?’ That is the prism we look through to make sure we meet that demand and where that demand is going to be, versus just doing what we think works best for us.”

Capriotti’s road map of current and future technologies continues to pay off. With the infrastructure in place, the chain swiftly adapted its operations at the start of the pandemic to give it a marketing head start and boost the bottom line for its franchisees and system. The introduction of virtual brands, a ghost kitchen franchise opportunity, and the recent acquisition of Wing Zone highlight the flurry of initiatives over the past year for Capriotti’s, which has 115 shops, more than 200 in development, and is targeting 500 by 2025.

8,000 Solutions

Franchisors have turned to integrated marketing and operations technology to rethink their business model in big and small ways. They have plenty of help: at last count, there were 8,000 online tools and technologies, according to ChiefMartec.com’s 2020 edition of the Marketing Technology Landscape.

Pizza Inn, known for its dine-in pizza buffet, used social media and public relations as early as March 2020 to introduce its contactless Buffet To-Go for customers to enjoy in the comfort and safety of their homes. The online program, the brand’s #1 redeemed offer at launch, was so popular that Pizza Inn brought it back last fall with expanded options as part of the chain’s New Right-Way Buffet, says Douglas Kwong, Rave Restaurant Group’s vice president of marketing.

Kwong, who previously served as director of e-commerce and digital media at Pei Wei Asian Kitchen, oversees marketing and IT strategies for both of Rave’s brands: Pizza Inn and Pie Five. Under his watch, Rave is rebuilding the entire training platform and rolling out Pizza Inn’s new POS system to simplify operations. And both Pizza and Pie Five have benefited from expanding its delivery and e-commerce platform.

“All of our initiatives that involve technology are centered around our goal to make the franchisee role more efficient and effective so they can take care of their guests and provide the best experience,” says Kwong. “From a marketing perspective, we are continuing to push our efforts around digital media to help increase brand awareness and sales.”

Next time: Automated marketing, local marketing, and a peek into the post-Covid future

Published: June 8th, 2021

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